Beltane: The Rites of Spring
Goddess May Pole
The Celts considered Beltane, or May Eve, the beginning of summer and we still celebrate it by building bonfires—on hillsides or our back yards. Beltane is the fourth gateway of the Wheel of the Year, a time when "sweet desire weds wild delight." It is the season when the first glorious burst of springtime causes our hearts to rejoice in life and perhaps love. Our passions are re-ignited at Beltane. We engage in the wild flow of life, regardless of age. Our blood pumps through our veins with renewed strength, our hearts open to delight and we become one with the blossoming Earth.
It is in the 'lusty month of May' that our imaginations take flight with hope. Perhaps this year. . . ! And so we dance around the Maypole, weaving the energies of life and love, hope and expectation for the coming year. We weave the feminine and masculine energies of Life and dance in renewal. Amidst the flowering shrubs and birdsong, we also engage in the dance of light and life, calling in for ourselves ever greater light and deeper and fuller life. Winter is behind us and a new round of life awaits us. What do we desire to be and do this year?
The bonfires of Beltane bless us with the fire of desire, and when we jump through and over them, the fires cleanse us of any lingering winter darkness, and bring us luck and fertility.
There are many traditions that say that during Beltane, the veils between the worlds become thin and the Faerie Folk come into our world to dance and give the Earth their blessings.
In Celtic mythology, the Otherworld is the realm of the deities as well as of the dead. The Otherworld is usually described as a supernatural realm of everlasting youth, beauty, health, abundance and joy. (A happier vision of the afterlife than our western religions offer us.)
Perhaps this belief in a bridging of worlds contains a memory of a time when priestesses and shamans celebrated the opening of the veils between the worlds and the powers of the Earth took on form and walked amongst humans.
Because once upon a time, they did!
When April turns to May, the Mother and her newly returned Daughter roam the woods, looking for the portal where the veils thin and the Otherworld draws near every May Day and Samhain.
They came to watch the Great Beings bless the re-blossoming of Life here on Earth.
The two women walk through a wispy fog as darkness slowly dissolves the light. In this twilight hour, the glowing green of new grass and tender new buds turn silvery-grey. Birds dart overhead through the stark tree branches, flashes of bright color to the growing dark. The sounds of animals settling in for the night whisper through the forest.
The women slip into a hidden forest glade. Before them rises the Faerie Mound.
Under a trio of birch trees, the women sit across from the Mound, breathing in the scent of Spring. As darkness fills the wooded valley, and silence spreads her silken wings, the women keep watch, enfolded in the sweet-smelling darkness, waiting for Moonrise.
In the waiting darkness, the Mother is remembering. Sinking into the silence of the night, she sinks down into the silence of her heart. The painful memories take shape like a dense, gray fog in her mind, only to shred and blow away with the coming of Joy. For lo! Her daughter, who had been lost, is found again! The memory flows through her like a bubbling brook, whose song is the sound of joy.
The Daughter sits in the growing dark, sharpening her eyes on the shadowy shapes gathering around her. As her eyes adjust to the darkness, her ears attune themselves to the night. The quiet rustlings of the night forest gives way to the quicksilver melody of a brook leaping and tumbling on the forest floor, while nightingales sing praises on the other side of the rounded hill.
Looking at her mother, the daughter knows a moment of wonder. Some comfort she thought lost forever is found again. At peace, she shifts her gaze to the starry heavens. The pressure of the light is building on her skin, and she looks to the East for the rising of the Moon.
The sudden appearance of that glowing light, flowing down from the heavens, cuts through the trees to fall on the Faerie Mound.
Now, the sound of moonlight falling on a Faerie Mound is indescribable; it’s as if the most delicate bells are set ringing by the most delectable breezes of Spring. Both Mother and Daughter let the sound wash over them like a waterfall before they turn to look at each other with identical grins.
So it begins!
The music of the light and of the night weave soft melodies, tossed by playful winds high above the forest only to sink down through the unfurling leaves to dance on the new green grass of the hill before them.
The women stand to greet the Moon Mother as her light flows through the forest, reaching toward them like a blessing. When the Moon herself finally rises above the trees, they open their arms in welcome.
Then they turn toward the Faerie Mound. And wait.
As they wait, they add their voices to the wind's melody. There in the glowing dark, Nature’s song calls out through the veils to the Invisible Powers, to the Shining Ones. The song deepens and swells, and with arms outstretched to send forth the call, the two women watch as the veils between the worlds fray and shred like mist dissolving in morning light.
The Faerie Mound is slowly splitting open, and light pours out of the rift, brighter than the moonbeams that dance through the dark forest. A hidden Sun shines from the other side of the veil and takes shape as a Tree, a great shining Tree of crystal light, with its roots sunk in the Earth and its branches reaching to the heavens.
The Tree glimmers with all the colors of the rainbow as the winds of the Otherworld blow through its branches. As the music of the Faerie Mound winds through the clearing, another sound faintly echoes, the deep note of a drumbeat woven beneath the enchantment of the bells.
With each drumbeat, the Tree puts forth leaves of silver and of gold, until a great canopy of brilliant light hangs overhead. Then, as if the Tree can no longer contain the fullness of the light within itself, a flash of light erupts from it into the forest, and a fire flares up among the dead limbs the women have gathered.
The drumbeat becomes the sound of thunder in the night sky, and the fire burns with the brightness of the Tree. Suddenly, the women feel a Presence approaching. Through the rift, flying on strong breezes, come flocks of different birds; small wrens and robins, brilliantly colored parrots, white swans and stately egrets, fierce hawks and majestic eagles. All the birds of the air come as the vanguard of the Mighty One who follows, Lord of the Air, Guardian of the Dawn, He who gives the breath of life to all living beings.
With Him walks One who wears the light of Heaven upon Her face. Stars pulse on her cloak, and her eyes are shining galaxies, full of the Wisdom of the Universe. As these two Beings pass through the veils, the women see Justice tempered with Mercy on the Lord of Life’s face and feel safe. When the Queen of Heaven looks down upon them, they know the face of Compassion and Love and are content. Then these two Mighty Ones pass on into the woods.
Next comes a Power who takes the form of a mounting green wave, foam-crested and shimmering in watery blue-greens. He wears it like a cloak, and with Him flows the music of all the waters which sing upon the Earth. Within the waters, the women see the wildness of ocean waves, the rolling flow of rivers, the silence of a hidden forest pool, the roaring of sleek waterfalls, and the bubbling up of springs. As this Mighty Presence passes by, the women are engulfed by the wave, and emerging, are washed clean by its joyful life.
With a laugh, shaking out their hair over the fire, they watch the flames lick at the wood. Then the ground starts to shake.
A gnarled, little gnome is pulling his leg out of the dark soil of the Faerie Mound at the point where the rift emerged from the Earth. The women can’t contain their joy and delight when they see what caused the rukus. The Dwarf is clothed in browns and greens, and brings to mind the damp coolness and musty smells of fertile earth and forest tracks. He turns to them with a deep-throated laugh, and reaching down into the hole, begins pulling up a wealth of gemstones and metal objects, each one a creation of rare and astonishing beauty.
The Master Craftsman looks at the beauty he’s created, and then lifting his arms, he gives a jaunty whistle. Soon the women hear the noise of many feet, and see a procession of men, women and children come through the trees. One by one they accept one of the Master's creations. When He has distributed all his store, the procession continues on into the forest, the gifts of the Master Craftsman held with reverence and honor at heart and breast.
The women turn back to the rift, staring in wonder and delight at the glorious Being stepping through the veils. She brings with Her the green livingness of the Earth. Dressed in a glorious robe of glowing green, She carries within herself the forms of all the countless lives that grow upon the Earth. The Mother sees trees the size of towers in forests long forgotten, and the flowering blossoms of trees that will soon bear sweet fruits. The Daughter sees soft dark moss growing over stones, and the secret life which moves the growth of corn and reeds, of root and stalk. As this Queen of the Greening passes by, She hands each woman a seed, and blows her breath upon their brows in blessing.
Meanwhile, the fire burns on and the thunder rumbles overhead, and the breezes, carrying moisture from the brook, swirl around the eddies of the flames, and teardrops fall onto the burning wood. The women watch the fire sizzle and crackle in silence.
And then they feel it: a great and gentle Spirit stands over them, wrapping them in love mixed with sorrow and pity With the Sorrowful Mother comes endurance and hope, and the wisdom that understands that life grows through suffering and sacrifice. A sudden breath of wind stirs the fire, and it blazes up to the sound of thunder until it seems to consume the whole world.
Now a new rarified sight takes hold of them and they see they are surrounded by countless Beings of exotic grace and beauty, swaying to the music that floats on the night breezes that sweep across the boundary of the worlds. And before they have time to wonder where all these Shining Folk have come from, they’re swept away in a wild dance.
All through the night they dance around the magical Tree, weaving strands of energy and light into patterns which echo their dancing steps. The light comes from the Shining Ones themselves, each individual creating part of the pattern, all connected in an intricate weave of light and life.
Far into the night, the Mother looks into the eyes of her dancing partner, and sees her fate written there.
But it is to the Daughter that the Shining Ones now turn their gazes toward. In a sudden silence, the Queen of Earth takes the Daughter by the hand and leads her into the center of their enchanted circle. Spreading her arms over the girl, She bestows the blessings of the growing green upon her in a shower of emerald crystals. Next, the Queen of Heaven lays her starry robe around the girl's shoulders, and kisses her on the lips. And finally, the Dark Queen comes to bind the Daughter's hands, for sorrow is ever a companion on the Way.
Drawing closer, the Shining Ones behold their chosen Queen of May. And with solemn, stately steps, they dance to weave the strands of life and love, fertility and death, light and darkness around her. They bestow upon her the blessings of the OtherWorld.
Then as when a dream begins to slowly shred, once again the Tree began to glow, still growing in both this world and in all the others. The drumbeat calls to the thunder, and soon small clouds gather in the grayness before dawn. Under the light of the Tree, the grass grows greener and the air grows sweeter as the breezes of dawn sweep through the glade.
The ghostly dancers silently fade into the morning mists, until only the Mother and Daughter wait, feeling the heat of the rising Sun reflected in the fire at their feet. The Moon, having traveled the heavens throughout the night, sends her last rays soaring high upon the leaves of the Tree in the Otherworld, so that the lights of both blend, the silver and the gold. And the music of that blending sends a shiver of delight and a sweetness flaming through the living Earth, so that all are renewed and reborn.
As the sweet delight of that music sweeps through the women, the Sun rises. A golden shaft of light spears the heart of the fire, re-awakening the glowing embers to life. The Daughter feeds the fire and smiles to herself, for she understands the fire and its need. And reaching down, she places the Earth Mother's seed in the midst of the flames.
When she looks up, her mother is smiling down at her. A moment more and she finds herself in her mother's arms. She is kissed with great love and tenderness, and then her mother turns away, swiftly stepping toward the rift that is slowly closing in the light of the new day. The last of the Shining Ones have slipped through the glowing rift already. But someone stands there at the rift, his drum hanging from his shoulder and his hand held out to her mother, who has chosen to follow him.
Yet for a moment more, her mother holds the veils open, as a shadowy form slipped around her body and steps to the foot of the Faerie Mound. When her mother sends her wink and a smile, the Daughter casts one last loving look at her mother as her body dissolves in the crystal light of the Tree.
And then the Tree and the light are gone. With a crack of thunder, the hillside reforms itself and the veils are once again closed.
Now the Daughter looks at the Being standing silent and still on the hillside. A man, strong and broad-shouldered, looks back at her. The Sun's beams move up well-shaped legs and torso, until his dark eyes and strong face are lit with a golden glow. In his eyes, she reads a love of the Earth and of growing things, a desire to defend the lands that he loves, and the will to hunt down all that is hurtful to that life. And as she looks deeper, she sees herself as he sees her, and knows that she is loved and desired.
As graceful and proud as a king stag, he comes to her, and taking her hand in his, kisses her.
Then with a shout of joy, he embraces this beautiful woman standing before him. As the Sun lights up the forest glade, the Woman and Man walk hand and hand into the forest. Where she walks, the Woman leaves behind a trail of flowers - blue forget-me-nots, red anemones and purple pansies. With the Man, the animals of that place—stag, fox, wolf and bear – follow.
Soon their laughter floats out through the moist morning air, smelling of sweet desire and wild delight!
While thunder rolls to the beat of the drum, clouds sweep in to cover the morning Sun. Soft rain falls like music on delicate leaves and drowns in rich, dark soil. And the shimmering drops quench the fires of Beltane, so they might water the seeds both Mother and Daughter had set in the heart of the fire.
And the Faerie glade grew green with life.
Copyright 2021 Cathy Pagano. All rights reserved.